Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district has drawn comparisons to a sketch of Goofy kicking Donald Duck. It’s held together by a steakhouse. When Next City’s Jen Kinney attempted to navigate it last year, she had to exit the main highway and take back roads. It is, in other words, notoriously gerrymandered. Or it was. In a decision filed Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enacted a new district map — which could be more favorable to the state’s Democratic party.
The court ruled last month that the state’s map was an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander” according to NPR.
As Kinney explained last year:
States redraw their congressional districts every 10 years, based on new census data. In Pennsylvania, the majority party in the state legislature controls the lines on that map — thus ensuring that party’s dominance until the next redistricting. That’s how District 7 was formed in 2011, a meandering entity that pays no heed to natural boundaries in its quest to create a safe Republican majority. Or take District 16, which largely coheres to Lancaster County lines and then — seemingly arbitrary — sends out tentacles to snag Oxford and Coatesville in the east and Reading in the north.
When justices first declared the map unconstitutional on Jan. 22, they told the Republican-controlled legislature and Democrat Governor (Governor Tom Wolf) to compromise and draw up a map together, stipulating that the districts “should be more compact and contiguous, and should split fewer municipalities,” NPR reports.
But the two parties didn’t compromise and submit a map. Instead House and Senate Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Lt. Governor Mike Stack, a group of Republican activists and the League of Women Voters all sent in separate maps. According to NPR, the maps did generally make districts more compact, but (as you might expect) they varied in terms of partisan advantage.
Ultimately justices drew up their own map. They were advised by Nathan Persily, a Stanford professor who has assisted judges in New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia and Maryland with other redistricting cases.
That map, Wired reports, will be used for the midterm elections in November, opening the race to a Democratic advantage. The decision also stands to benefit Pennsylvania’s smaller urban areas. Many cities, like the post-industrial Reading, were swallowed up by large rural districts under the previous system.
“No matter who is representing that particular district, they have a much larger portion of population in Lancaster County, which is much more Republican-leaning, which allows them to kind of ignore the needs of Reading itself,” Judy Schwank, a state senator who represents the city of Reading at the state capital, told Kinney last year. “And this is a city with quite a few needs. We’re one of the poorest urban areas in the country.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.